Sunday, April 6, 2014

Maryland General Assembly Concludes: BDS is not Anti-Semitic nor Should It be Demonized

It started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Or as the Turks used to say (and Israelis still say), “The mountain gave birth to a mouse.”

In the wake of the American Studies Association’ decision to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education, bills were introduced in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates that would forbid state colleges and universities from using state funds for institutional memberships in the American Studies Association (the University of Maryland at Baltimore County is a member), and travel to and from its conferences.  The penalty for such travel? A  3% deduction from the state allocation to that university.

It seemed like an easy sell. After all, some of the presidents of the universities had harshly criticized the ASA decision, and nobody supported it. All of them oppose BDS. How can Palestinians and/or leftwingers compete with the power of the Baltimore and Suburban Maryland organized Jewish communities? 

Yet in the end the bill stalled in committee, and relatively tepid language condemning the ASA and opposing the global BDS movement, produced in committee,  was ratified as an amendment to the budget narrative– not even as a separate resolution. 

Anti-boycotters will say, rightly, that for the first time the state had declared its opposition to the global BDS movement.  But oh, boy, did they lose this round.

From the beginning, legislative sources indicated to me that the 3% penalty was dead in the water. That became quickly apparent after public disagreement broke out between the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Washington Jewish Community Relations Council, which thought the bill went too far. The universities were dead-set against the bill. The principle advocate of the bill, delegate Ben Kramer, thought the penalty essential:  He was quoted as saying “Why have a law if there are no sanctions, no penalties? Penalties are what cause people to abide by the law…The penalty will mean nothing unless a university decides to violate the law.”

So Kramer and the anti-BDS movement lost round one big time. But round two was more interesting, since the universities effectively dropped out of the picture. And here’s where the anti-Boycott movement was emasculated.  Here’s the original language, which was provided to Kramer by some pro-Israel group (or Israeli government agency). Identical language is cropping up in other state legislatures.

The [Maryland] General Assembly finds that anti-Semitism is an intolerable and ugly form of bigotry, prejudice, and hostility directed toward individuals of the Jewish faith and the State of Israel, often based on ethnic, cultural, or religious identity; Israel, a democratic nation, the only country in the Middle East that is a democracy, is a strong ally of the United States based on shared values and interests and invaluable cooperation in cybersecurity, medicine, biotechnology, agriculture, and bilateral trade and commerce, as well as educational, research, and cultural exchanges; the American Studies Association is an academic organization composed of approximately 5,000 members, all of whom are members of academia specializing in the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history; the American Studies Association, through a vote of its members, has endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and their scholars who are serving as representatives from those institutions; the boycott adopted by the American Studies Association is consistent with a movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel; and the State of Maryland has ratified a Declaration of Cooperation with the State of Israel resulting in the successful exchange of commerce, culture, technology, tourism, trade, economic development, scholarly inquiry, and academic cooperation, which has served to improve the quality of the lives of their respective peoples for well over two decades.

The General Assembly further finds that an academic boycott of Israel: is antithetical to the principles of academic freedom and to the free and open exchange of ideas; results in the restriction and stifling of Israeli scholars and Israeli institutions of higher education; disengages Israeli scholars and Israeli institutions of higher education from invaluable global academic collaborations and conferences; and invokes fear among the international academic community by creating a hostile learning environment and condoning the use of an academic community as a political pawn.

The General Assembly declares that it is the policy of the State to  condemn, in the strongest terms possible, the American Studies Association’s academic boycott against Israel as an inappropriate act on the part of the academic community; recognize that such conduct, particularly within centers of academic study, is unacceptable and must be denounced; and strongly encourage that all colleges and universities support the open flow of public discourse, debate, and academic freedom, particularly with respect to nations with which Maryland has a ratified Declaration of Cooperation;

Here is some of how Kramer defended the amendment on the floor or the house:

Now the ASA is welcome to its discriminatory boycott. It is welcome to be as racist as they choose. That is called freedom of speech. However, the people of the state of Maryland do not have to use their public dollars to support such a racist organization. Particularly when it undermines Maryland’s state policy as articulated in the declaration of cooperation which MD and Israel have shared since 1988 and every one of you should have a copy of that declaration sent to you by email this morning. As a result of that relationship, as established through the referenced document, the people of MD and Israel have benefited greatly financially, intellectually, and academically. The amendment that I am offering would simply prohibit the use of public dollars by a public university by being used to pay for membership in or travel to an organization that has declared a boycott against Israel or its universities. it’s just that simple. Allowing public dollars to be used for such a purpose is antithetical to our state policy and completely undermines the beneficial relationship that we share with Israel and that serves Maryland's people so well. There is nothing that will prohibit anybody from being a member of this organization. Nothing at all. There is nothing that will  prohibit someone from attending one of this organization’s events. Absolutely nothing. there is no sanction of any kind against any professor who chooses to do this.They are free to be members in the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan if they so choose. But must we subsidize their travel costs with public dollars to attend the cross-burnings? I say ‘no.’ We have no responsibility to use public dollars for that purpose.

The ASA members who support BDS are free to be members of the Ku Klux Klan!

Due to a concerted effort by progressives in the state, aided by a direct appeal from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Senate and House of Delegates budget reconciliation committee  watered down the Kramer amendment to the following:

The General Assembly finds that: (1) intellectual and academic freedom are essential to democracy, human rights, human enlightenment, and human progress; (2) academic boycotts against institutions of higher education and their faculty are anathema to free societies and free minds; and (3) official state control of intellectual inquiry and activity is a mark of authoritarian societies and is strongly disfavored in a pluralistic democratic culture.  The General Assembly declares that it is the policy of the State to: (1) reaffirm our Declaration of Cooperation with the State of Israel that has resulted in the successful exchange of commerce, culture, technology, tourism, trade, economic development, scholarly inquiry, and academic cooperation for well over two decades; (2) oppose Maryland public institutions’ support of the movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel; (3) condemn the American Studies Association’s boycott against institutions of higher education in Israel; (4) affirm intellectual and academic freedom in Maryland and our reputation as a leader in intellectual inquiry and dialogue; and (5) strongly encourage that all colleges, universities, faculty, staff, and students protect and advance the open flow of public discourse, debate, and academic freedom.”.

BDS as anti-semitic or racist? Gone.  Forbidding the use of public funds to support travel to ASA conferences? Gone. Condemnation of institutional membership in the ASA? Gone. Condemnation of the ASA “in the strongest possible terms”? At least half-gone.

Instead, you have “opposition” to the “the movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel.” Heck, the sentence is ambiguous enough to actually allow support of any BDS movement against Israel that is not designed to delegitimize the democratic State of Israel, but simply to call upon it to honor human rights.

In short, the global BDS movement.

The State of Maryland is known as liberal and overwhelmingly democratic, so I wouldn’t infer anything from the defeat of the Kramer bill for other states.

But it is heartening to know that under severe pressure in an election year, the legislature took a position that is articulated by J Street and other liberal Zionists, and rejected a position that has overwhelming support in the activist pro-Israel community.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

“Why Isn’t Aelia Capitolina On Your Map?”


In May 1948, a minority of Palestinian residents, mostly recent settlers from Europe, declared an independent state against the wishes of the majority. This was the latest in a series of inter-communal disturbances that had followed the passage of the UN Partition Plan, and one which precipitated an expected intervention of Arab armies from neighboring states. At the end of the war, Palestine was partitioned by the new State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and Egypt. Most of the inhabitants of Palestine, Palestinian Arabs,  had been forced out of areas they had lived in, directly or indirectly. Some, much fewer, Jews suffered the same fate. Over the next few years, five hundred Palestinian villages were destroyed; Palestinian place names were changed, many of the native Palestinian, including Palestinians living in the state who should have been considered citizens according to the Declaration of Independence, were not allowed to return to their homes. In many cases. Jewish refugees were resettled in those homes.  In a space of a few years, Palestine was literally and figuratively wiped off the map.

In light of the above, I am disturbed that Jewish students at Barnard are disturbed by seeing a map of Palestine calling for Justice in Palestine that doesn’t have the State of Israel on the map. If they are disturbed by the thought that the State of Israel is not on the map, why aren’t they disturbed at the actual destruction of Palestine that occurred in 1948? Do they think that Palestine ceased to exist after the British Mandate expired?  That Palestinians have no homeland? That they came from Brigadoon or Atlantis?

“You can’t go home again,” wrote Thomas Wolfe. Tell that to the Zionists who to this day claim the Land of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.  Just as the Land of Israel exists, Palestine still exists, and will always exist as along as Palestinian Arabs remember it and wish its continued existence.  I simply cannot fathom how any Zionist cannot understand this. Imagine the Romans saying to the Jews of their time, “Wishing to return to Jerusalem is personally offensive to us. Why isn’t Aelia Capitolina on your map? You lost. Get over it.” Would that carry any weight with Jews then or during the ages? Would it carry any weight with Zionists today?”

At Barnard the Students for Justice in Palestine hung a banner stating, “Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine,” (see above) and the administration took it down.

I don’t want to get into the free speech vs. private institution issue.  If I did, I would say that I am pretty much a free speech absolutist, especially when it comes to college campuses.

I want to talk about the sign itself. I understand why pro-Israel students are disturbed by the sign,  but from a moral standpoint, they should get over it.  To this day, I am viscerally disturbed by some aspects of Christianity, and going into churches is not easy for me. That’s because as an orthodox Jew, I get  that there is a fundamental incommensurability between the two religions,such that if I am right, they are wrong, and vice-versa.  But while I do not agree with the belief that Jesus was the messiah, I can’t imagine protesting a banner that expresses this Christian belief. I would oppose, of course,  a banner that says, “All Jews/Christians are going to hell” or “Throw the Zionists/Palestinians into the sea”.

So while it is understandable that some Jewish students have a visceral response to the banner, I would hope that they would have the sensitivity to understand, even if they don’t agree, that Palestine is eternal for the Palestinians, just as the Land of Israel is eternal for the Jews. 

As for the J Street students who think that such banners are “unhelpful” for a two-state solution, I ask, “Why so?” After all, even if the Palestinians accept a small, truncated state in Palestine, it will never replace Palestine for them, no more than that state will have any effect whatever on Eretz Yisrael for me.

What I am saying is not rocket science. I live in what will forever be Occupied Palestine for Palestinians, and Eretz Yisrael for Jews.  I will not support any ideology that wants to bring chaos and suffering to people who are justifiably in their land. I will try to seek for solutions that will maximize justice.

To my fellow Jews I say right now – Palestine never went away and is not going away. Palestine remembered is Palestine forever. Please read my post here about how Jews should relate to Palestine.

After all, the primary victims of the Zionist movement have been the Palestinians – so if sensitivity is required, then sensitivity for the weaker and more aggrieved party is in order, isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why I (Still) Love Living in Israel

Yesterday I wrote that living in Israel for Jews (especially Jews who have a steady income) is like flying business class, or like being in an airport club, that “membership has its privileges”. That may have left the reader with the impression that this is the only reason I like being here. That’s not the case.

I cannot deny that despite all my misgivings about the state of Israel, its past, present, and immediate future, I like being here. In fact, I really like being here. Here’s why:

I like Israelis, and I don’t mean just Israeli Jews. There is something about Israel that makes this place feel like a small town. I would say shtetl but that’s too Jewish. There is a national character, an Israeliness that, like every Israeli, I both criticize and celebrate. When traveling abroad I always run into Israelis, everywhere. There is a freshness, a newness to this place that reflects some sort of innate optimism. Maybe some of that is Jewish, but it’s not just that. How can the Palestinians not be optimistic – they have survived their ongoing Nakbah, and their community, and the world’s recognition of its aspirations, is growing. 

Second, I have lived here for so long that it has become home to me.  Not so much as a Jew – as a Jew home is where my community and shul are – but as somebody who became an Israeli citizen many years ago. It’s because Israel is home to me that I view Israelis as family, and I like family. Families get into arguments, but family is family. And when my family screws up, it pains me, but it’s also my responsibility.

Third, it’s hard to  be a Jew here, real hard, and that’s part of what makes life interesting, especially for somebody like me, who is a very Jewish Jew.   Pace A. B. Yehoshua, I can’t think of any place in the world where it is harder to be a Jew than in Israel. Here’s an example: When I was growing up, I used to listen to the Christian fundamentalists on Sunday religion shows. As a privileged suburban Jewish liberal I used to think that Judaism was more rational, more liberal a religion that Christianity. I suffered from the same moral chauvinism that many tribalists feel about their own tribe.  It’s only when I came to Israel and learned that whatever craziness gentiles had, Jews also had it in spades, and that whatever bigotry the Southern (and Northern) whites had in the past, some Jews also had it. Only in Israel did I realize that my feelings of moral superiority were misplaced. I learned that  Judaism was a lot more than the lofty sentiments of “Pentateuch” with Rabbi Hertz’s commentary (or any book written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks),  and that my people continued to commit sins in the name of “Jewish survival” or “Judaism”  just as folks from other religions did it (and that includes the religion of nationalism and secularism.)  I suppose I could have learned the same thing growing up in some neighborhoods in New York, but only in Israel did I meet those folks for the first time.

Of course, that doesn’t sound like a reason to love Israel, no more than you love a persistent pain. Perhaps it’s better to say that I am grateful for the difficulties of being a Jew here because of its impact on my moral smugness.

There’s a final reason why I love Israel. I still have faith that it can become a decent, even inspiring society, and I say that because of my faith in humanity and my familiarity with Israelis.  I can envision a truly liberal democracy, a state of all its citizens, where all Israelis learn about and celebrate the two major national cultures and the many religious cultures here.  I can envision an Israel that grows ups, that admits its responsibility for the ongoing Nakbah, that invites Palestinians to build with Israeli Jews a just society, that tries to make amends, an Israel that bears a special responsibility for the welfare and the flourishing of the Palestinian people.  As I have said before, the Palestinians were the collateral damage, not the intended damage,  of the Zionist enterprise, and so Israelis, primarily Israeli Jews,  have a collective and historical relationship towards the Palestinians and their national aspirations. Hakarat ha-het – recognizing the sin of responsibility for the ongoing Nakbah– is the first step in the process of repentance.  A just society can be  built here, and that should be the primary task of Jews in the twenty-first century, especially those Jews for whom Israel is a special place. It may take decades and generations, but I believe it can come.

So, yes, that is a dream, and  I realize that for some of my coreligionists it is a nightmare, that they would rather continue living according to the blessing of  Esau – “by the sword” -- for the sake of political power, privilege, dominion, “Jewish pride.” It will always be easier for tribalists to live like Simeon and Levi than like Jacob.  

But I still have faith that things can be different and that ultimately, whatever political arrangement, which means little to me, these two peoples can flourish together.  They are certainly not going away.

Anyway, that’s my dream, and I haven’t given up on it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Some Thoughts on Purim.

1. Binationalism in the eyes of Israelis. Ask most Israel supporters what they they think of binationalism, and they will say, “Look at Lebanon; that hasn’t worked out very well, has it?” But that depends on whom you ask, right? After all, a Christian in Lebanon is better off than a Palestinian on the West Bank. So what the Zionists really mean is, “We will have less security in a binational state because we won’t have total control over the Palestinians who live under our authority.”

2. Binationalism in the eyes of Palestinians. Ask most Palestinians what they think of binationalism, and they will say, “We want our own state.” What they really mean is that they are sick of Jews determining their lives, and that they have no desire to share power with Jews, especially since they will probably get the short end of the stick in a binational state. The irony is that both Israeli Jews and Palestinians think that their national identity will be compromised in a binational state. These peoples have so much in common….

3. The Israeli binationalist nightmare scenario. If there were one state, argue Israel supporters, the Palestinians would obtain a majority, start persecuting the Jewish minority, which would only grow after many Israelis leave the country. And then the nightmare would really begin. I have heard some intelligent, liberal Jews give this argument. Which just goes how deep racism is among those intelligent, liberal Jews.  The group that has most to fear from binationalism are the Palestinians. After all, only one country was wiped off the map, and it wasn’t the State of Israel, was it? Who would have power in a binational state? Israeli Jews, even if there were fewer of them. Look how well they did against the Palestinians when they were outnumbered.

4. Haman in Jerusalem.  I went to a reading of the Book of Esther by Israeli Litvaks. What that means is that qua Litvaks they were concerned with Jewish law; qua Israelis they raised a huge ruckus every time Haman’s name was mentioned. The reader would say Haman’s name, and the kids would explode for around 30 seconds of noise. Then, in order to ensure that everybody had heard Haman’s name (according to Jewish law, everybody should hear every word of the megillah), the reader repeated Haman’s name, this time without the noise.  So Haman’s name was mentioned twice as many times as written in order to fulfill the non-mitzvah of blotting out his name. This is the logical conclusion of a moronic custom.

5. Membership has its privileges. Jews enjoy going to Israel. Even tourists feel that this a kind of home for them. If Israel were a plane, then Jews would be in  Business Class; Israeli Palestinians would be  in Economy, and Palestinians in the Occupied Territory would be  in the luggage hold. That’s one of the reasons why Jews don’t want Israel to change. Who wants to  be thrown out of Business Class?

6. Moral delusion. Ami Gluska has an opinion piece in Haaretz showing that Ben Gurion was willing to have an Arab president. Over the opposition of the religious Zionists, he argued that “A constitution that would prevent an Arab from being president is inconceivable. Rabbi Berlin has quoted so many verses against me for nothing. Any citizen can be elected president of the state, and if a majority is found to elect an Arab president, there will be no discrimination in the Jewish state. I suppose that it will also not be called Jewish State.” Gluska points out that when Ben-Gurion wrote this, he had accepted a state that had around 40% Arabs, and, together with the communists, there was a real possibility that there could be an Arab president.

What Gluska doesn’t mention is that Ben-Gurion’s acceptance of partition was merely tactical; that he fully expected a transfer of Arabs outside of the Jewish state; that at the first opportunity he acquiesced and even favored expulsion; that he placed the Arabs who remained under military government and infiltrated their society with secret service. So while theoretically it was possible that there could be an Arab president, he knew that there never would be one, nor did he actually want one. What he wanted was a state that could be an imagined democracy, a state that could be built on theoretical democratic principles without ceding any real privileges to non-Jews. Thus Arabs would have the vote so they could vote for Mapai candidates, in exchange for which the mukhtars would be properly rewarded, and they could express their opinions in the Knesset provided they had no real political power.

I don’t think this was a cynical ploy on the part of Ben-Gurion. I think it was part of a schizophrenic personality, one that insisted on liberal values on principle while violating those principles in practice. One sees this time after time in his actions as Zionist leader and then prime minister: he talked the democratic talk, but he walked the nationalist walk. In that sense, he was the quintessential Mapainik – talking about equality for the Arabs while ensuring that they stay behind.

This moral delusion – delusion, more than duplicity – is deep in the Israeli psyche and expressed beautifully in the phrase “Jewish and democratic”.

7. Israel as the Nation State of the Jews. I call myself a Zionist but many people claim that I am not, because I oppose Israel as an ethnic exclusivist state. Zionists, they say, affirm Israel as the nation state of the Jews. So by requiring Palestinians to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jews, Israel is saying that the Palestinians must become Zionists – or at least profess Zionism – for them to have their own state. That’s like Christians requiring Jews to believe in Jesus in order for Jews to have their self-determination. Or better, that’s like the rapist requiring his victim to accept the legitimacy of the rape.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Partial Correction on the Atarot Post

Subscribers: Please check out my blog here because this post will be virtually incomprehensible if you can’t see the maps.

I criticized the NY Times for changing an article in response to misinformation given then by the rightwing pro-Israel media watchdog group CAMERA. Here’s what I said;

After CAMERA weighed in, this was the version that was on the [NY Times] web[site]

Israel opened an industrial zone in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot, which had been Jewish before 1948, shortly after recapturing it along with the rest of the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war.

One sentence, three mistakes:

  • There was no East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot before 1948.
  • There was no Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem called  Atarot before 1948.
  • The Atarot industrial zone does not even overlap  geographically with the tiny Jewish settlement  of Atarot that fell to the Jordanians in the 1948 war.


All the above is correct. But I went on to say that the Jewish settlement of Atarot was not even in the expanded municipal boundaries. I said that on the basis of this map from the Civil Administration, provided me by Dror Etkes.




The purple is the area bounded by the city line. Since the blue and white area on the upper left was Jewish land prior to 1948, and that area was tagged in the map “Atarot,” Dror and I assumed that this was the spot of the settlement of Atarot. It may actually been its lands. But it appears that the actual settlement was slightly south, or  south east of the present-day air-strip (considerably expanded in 1972 from the British air strip built on lands obtained from Atarot.)

This was pointed out to me by  Professor Brendan McKay – the well-known Australian debunker of the Bible Codes hoax (among other things).  He was kind enough to send me a British map from 1944.



and a modern map:




and to write, “on this evidence the buildings of Atarot were at the place which has the elevation mark “757” just below the centre of the runway in the modern map.”

This is somewhat confirmed by the following passage from Meron Benveniste that Etkes sent me: “See the runway that appears in all the maps -- slightly to its south east, you will find the settlement [of Atarot]. Part of it was destroyed by the British in order to build the airstrip, and part was destroy in 1948 after its evacuation.”

Still, prima facie we have a case of dueling maps: the British map of 1944 and the Civil Administration map provided to Etkes. The area tagged Atarot in that map may have been a mistake, or a partial reference to Atarot’s lands  there. 

To conclude: so far the evidence appears to be in favor of Atarot being south east of the center of the modern runway and not to its west. (Remember the modern runway is not identical with the British airstrip.)

I would like to thank Brendan McKay and Dror Etkes for spending their time on this. Etkes actually drove to Atarot today to check out the terrain but couldn’t find anything.

For the moment, I’ll go with the British map. But as I said, this really had nothing to do with the errors made by the New York Times, prompted by CAMERA.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why the NY Times Atarot Snafu Matters

Some readers wondered why I devoted a whole post to showing that the NY Times “corrected” a story about Atarot  by repeating a rightwing media’s group’s errors. I mean, so what if the Industrial Zone of Atarot is not in the same geographical area as the pre-1948 Jewish settlement of Atarot?  So what if the NY Times got it wrong? They spelled the name right, so why be obsessed?

Dear Reader, may I suggest that the story is emblematic of how Israel creates facts on the ground, and how the mainstream media just adopts the Israeli narrative.

Israel assumes that because there was a Jewish presence in a certain area prior to 1948, that gives Israel a prima facie right to “resettle,” and even to assert sovereignty over that area.  For some that settlement can date from Biblical times; for others, it may be a modern settlement.  But the principle is the same, and that’s what motivated, for example, CAMERA to make the claim that the Atarot Industrial Zone was part of the pre-1948 Jewish village Atarot.

Even if that were true, the obvious response would be, “so what”? For every Jewish village that surrendered to the Jordanian army in 1948, there are tens, if not hundreds of Palestinian villages that surrendered. If there is a claim to return in one case, then there is a claim to return to another.  Ditto for sovereignty.

But it’s not true, and the reason is that it’s not true is the Israeli propensity of vastly enlarging the territory that it claims that it settled prior to 1948.

Ask most Israelis whether it was right to settle in the Etzion Bloc, or whether the Etzion Bloc should be part of a Palestinian state, and you will hear the same argument: “Jews lived there before 1948.” But the Etzion Bloc has tripled three times in size since then. Including area that was never part of the Etzion Bloc, Israel is quite literally moving the borders in an effort to claim legitimacy. And this happens again and again and again.

The biggest case is Jerusalem.  I am going to shock some of my readers with what I am about to say – but I am willing to support a solution in which Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of the State of Israel, wholly under Jewish sovereignty. Yes, you head me --  the “rock of our existence,” the geographic locale towards which Jews prayed for centuries, should be the undivided capital of the State of Israel! There should be one minor proviso. “Jerusalem” should be  limited (generously) to the Old City and perhaps part of Silwan, because THAT was the Jerusalem that  was the “rock of our existence.” In exchange for having  the Haram al-Sharif remain under Israeli sovereignty, though clearly with religious administration given to the Waqf, the rest of present-day Jerusalem will be the capital of a Palestinian state.  Jews can live in West Jerusalem under Palestinian sovereignty.  The fact is that Jews have no historical claims to neighborhoods outside the wall of the Old City until the end of the nineteenth century – and nobody ever prayed towards Yemin Moshe!

But, of course, that’s not the way it works in the Israeli mind-set. If Jerusalem’s municipal border were expanded to include Bet Shemesh to the West, Israel would argue that that too was Jerusalem. This was the trap that CAMERA caused the NY Times to fall into.  Israel declares lands that were never part of Jerusalem  to be Jerusalem in an effort to take them off the negotiating table. And in many case, the mainstream media buys it.

You think I’m exaggerating? Here’s how Jodi Rudoren describes Ramot Shlomo:

The Israeli government announced Wednesday that it had given final approval for 1,500 new apartments in a particularly contentious Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and moved forward on plans for a controversial park and tourism center here, prompting Palestinian accusations that it is not taking the Washington-brokered peace talks seriously.

On the one hand she calls Ramot Shlomo a “settlement” and not a “neighborhood”.  But when she says that it is in East Jerusalem, she places Ramot Shlomo on the same level as Jewish settlement in pre-67 East Jerusalem, like the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.  But Ramot Shlomo is NOT in East Jerusalem, or rather, the area was not East Jerusalem until Israel expanded its borders to include it.  So by not noting that its being part of Jerusalem is itself disputed, the Times already makes it into a dispute as to whether Jews have a claim to this area of “East Jerusalem.”

Ditto for Gilo and Har Homah and for all other neighborhoods in expanded Jerusalem.

The NY Times response will be, “We describe matters as they now stand; we don’t have to add a note saying that the territory was only considered  Jerusalem after 1967.”  But there should be a distinction made between was was Jerusalem and what became Jerusalem by Israel’s expansion ,largely in order to maintain a demographic balance of 80% Jews to 20% Arabs, and to provide for Jewish growth.  (There were  further economic reasons, but that’s another story.)

All it takes for the NY Times is to add the phrase “Israeli expanded” before “Jerusalem,” and that will be accurate enough.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Submitted Testimony in Opposition to the Maryland Legislature Anti-Boycott Bill

Tomorrow and Thursday there will be committee hearings on the proposed Maryland legislation forbidding the use of state money for institutional membership in, and travel to conferences sponsored by, academic associations that have passed boycott resolutions against Israel.

The presidents of the state universities have written a strong letter against the legislation. That will probably kill it, especially since the letter condemns the boycott itself.  But I was also asked to submit testimony, and so here it is.

 Testimony in Opposition to SB 647 and HB 998

Public Higher Education — Use of Funds — Prohibition

TO: Hon. June Carter Conway, Chair, and members of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee

Hon. Chair Norman Conway and members of the House Appropriations Committee

FROM: Charles H. Manekin, Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies and Professor of Philosophy, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

DATE: March 5, 2014

I oppose SB 647/HB 998 because I believe it constitutes an infringement of academic freedom. But I also oppose SB 647/HB 998 because calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against those who violate fundamental human rights is a long enshrined American practice, and this bill, while not formally outlawing such calls, is clearly intended to curtail them. That is the expressed intention of the initiators who are reacting to boycott resolutions passed against Israeli academic institutions.

This bill is important to me not only as the director of a center that has extensive ties with Israeli academic institutions but as a native of Baltimore, an alumnus of the Gilman School, and the Baltimore Hebrew College, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, whose four children are also veterans, and whose children and grandchildren live in Israel. It may seem surprising to members of the committee that I, who do not engage in any boycotts of Israel within its democratic borders, not only endorse the right to call for such boycotts but express solidarity with the global BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement of Palestinian civil society

And yet it is not surprising. My father was an early supporter of the civil rights movement, which included the Montgomery Bus boycott. In high school I marched with my classmates from the Baltimore Hebrew College in support of Soviet Jews whose human rights were being violated. I supported the 1974 Jackson-Vanick amendment that restricted trade with the Soviet Union, just as I supported the divestment movement against the treatment of blacks under South African apartheid.

Whenever there is a boycott to promote human rights, critics of the boycott question the motives of the boycotters. The Soviet Union argued that the boycotters were hardline anti-Soviets who sought the destruction of the USSR. The South African government accused the divestment movement of hypocrisy, claiming that there were worse human rights violators. Some Israel advocates claim that the global BDS movement seeks to destroy the Jewish state and accuse their detractors of anti-Semitism.

The global BDS movement calls upon the State of Israel to recognize and protect the human rights of the Palestinians in accordance with international resolutions and human rights standards. Reasonable people may disagree over whether boycotts, divestments, and sanctions of Israel are effective tactics, or whether academic associations should become involved in the fight for human rights, or even whether the case of Israel warrants these tactics. These are questions not to be decided in state legislatures but to be debated and discussed in the public sphere.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

How the Rightwing CAMERA got the NY Times to Invent A Jewish Neighborhood of Jerusalem

Phil Weiss reported last week about how the rightwing media “watchdog” CAMERA got the New York Times to change its reporting on the Soda Stream factory at the Atarot Industrial Zone. After CAMERA weighed in, this was the version that was on the web.

Israel opened an industrial zone in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot, which had been Jewish before 1948, shortly after recapturing it along with the rest of the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war.

One sentence, three mistakes:

  • There was no East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot before 1948.
  • There was no Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem called  Atarot before 1948.
  • The Atarot industrial zone does not even overlap  geographically with the tiny Jewish settlement  of Atarot that fell to the Jordanians in the 1948 war.

After Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 it expanded the municipal boundaries to include territory that had never been part of Jerusalem, expanding northward to claim the Qalandia airstrip that Jordan had used, but being careful not to include more Arabs necessary within its borders. The abandoned Atarot settlement was not included within the expanded municipal borders of Jerusalem (see picture below.)

The Atarot settlement that was captured by the Jordanians in 1948 consisted of around a dozen settlers on approximately 132 acres. According to the  Atarot Industrial Zone website, the zone  is today built on 1500 acres, with over 180 factories and 4500 employees – every single one of them is on Palestinian land.

CAMERA took credit for the The New York Times’ correction.

CAMERA had informed The Times that the neighborhood, Atarot, was a Jewish owned farming village before 1948, when Jordan occupied the area and destroyed the village’s homes. Atarot is in sovereign Israeli territory as part of the country’s unified capital, although Palestinians claim it as their own….

I am not sure whether CAMERA knowingly duped the NY Times, or whether it is simply woefully ignorant about the facts on the ground. The purple on the map below is the territory annexed by the Israelis in 1967. Pre-1948 Atarot is to the left, in Area C – not yet annexed by the Israelis, although maybe that’s just a matter of time….



Sunday, February 23, 2014

If Liberal Zionists Don’t Want to Endorse BDS of Israel, They Should Have Better Reasons

In my pantheon of commentators on Israel/Palestine, I rate MJ Rosenberg near the top. In fact, I agree with him on virtually everything, and I value his knowledge of America and the American Jewish community.

But his latest post on why he, a liberal Zionist, doesn’t support targeting all of Israel with the BDS campaign, makes no sense to me. It’s not his position I don’t understand; it’s his reasons.

MJ gives two reasons why he won’t endorse BDS against all of Israel, although he does endorse BDS when restricted to the Occupied Territories.

The first reason is that BDS against all of Israel hurts all Israelis, not just West Bank settlers and the settlement enterprise. And as a liberal Zionist, MJ draws a distinction between the Israeli state and the post-67 settlement project.

The second reason is that Americans have no right to criticize Israel since we are guilty of more crimes than the Israelis. So we should take the mote out of own eye, or as he puts it, “Physician, heal thyself”.

To see why the second reason makes no sense to me,  perform the following thought experiment. It is 1974. The United States is winding down the Vietnam war, a war in which it has committed massive human rights violations and war crimes (including “millions of dead” according to MJ.) We certainly are in no position to judge morally another country for human rights violation that are minor in comparison. And yet, the trade sanctions of the Jackson-Vanik amendment were passed against the Soviet Union in 1974 with the overwhelming support of the American Jewish community. And why? Because the USSR did not allow its citizens to emigrate without imposing taxes on them. In 1974 there are much worse human rights violations going on in the world – but the US singled out the Soviet Union for censure. (Note to Abe Foxman: Does this mean that the real motive of the supporters of the Jackson-Vanik amendment was anti-Sovietism?)

Why wasn’t it  hutzpah for the US to pass sanctions that inevitably and collectively hurt innocent Russian people, a lot more than boycotting Israeli products does?  If we have no moral right to judge Israel now, why did we have the moral right to judge the Soviet Union then?

The truth is that human beings always have the moral right and obligation to judge others and to judge themselves. We always have the moral right and obligation to fight injustice.  And clearly we do not have the obligation to fight all injustices equally; what engages our attention and our efforts needs to be justified, to be sure, but what of it?  Surely one wouldn’t argue that a Palestinian American forfeits the  right to call for BDS against Israel because he is collectively responsible for injustice as an American. And yet isn’t that implied in the argument?

As for the idea that “targeted BDS” only hurts the settlers and the settlement enterprise, that’s already been dismissed for several reasons. First, we Israelis benefit directly from the Occupation of the West Bank, if only for its resources.  Second, Israel is a democracy, and if we Israelis truly wanted to, we could have ended the Occupation years ago.  We bear some sort of responsibility for the ongoing exploitation of the West Bank, and in the short term we benefit from it, as I said. Third, BDS campaigns, like strikes, like the Jackson-Vanik amendment, inevitably hurt innocent people. In South Africa, thousands of blacks lost jobs when BDS successfully closed auto factories and plants. Look at the sanctions against Iran. Are there no good people being hurt? The question is how to balance the harm with the greater good, while not harming so much.  I do not call for crushing sanctions against Israel. Or Iran, for that matter. Balance is important. Convincing Lady Gaga not to appear in Tel Aviv because of the Occupation is perfectly kosher in my eyes. I hope MJ agrees with me.

I boycott the settlements as an act of solidarity with the global BDS movement and because I think that of all my country’s current sins, the Occupation is the worst.  I also am convinced that  what explains the successes of the global BDS movement is the world consensus against the Occupation,  and so the focus of the BDS movement should be there, even if the particular target is in Tel Aviv and not in Ariel.

But it is wishful thinking to place the onus of the Occupation on some rightwing crazies, to absolve Israelis and their supporters from responsibility for the Occupation, and to fail to see that the Occupation is a direct consequence of some thinking that has accompanied Zionism since Ben-Gurion and before.  The Occupation is a symptom of the disease, not the disease, itself.

Like liberal Zionists there are many things I admire about the State of Israel, and those good things are worth preserving in whatever political arrangement will emerge from the current mess.  But I join hands with liberal Zionists and post-Zionists and anti-Zionists in a common front to end the Occupation and to see the Palestinian people, wherever they may, rise from their current state. 

Of course, MJ is aware that for many, if not most Israelis, boycotting the Jews and factories of Judea and Samaria, is the same as boycotting Israel.  The careful distinctions that liberal Zionists make seem like so much pilpul/casuistry to them. The proposed anti-boycott law would make MJ potentially liable to civil suits, were he an Israeli citizen.

So if he, like Pete Beinart, wants to engage in “Zionist BDS,” let him do so…but for better reasons. I don’t boycott all of Israel because it’s my home, my family lives there, and if I don’t engage, who will?  I see myself as an ally of those who want Israel to be a decent state, and I still believe that the way I can do that is from within. I have not gotten to the state that says it’s hopeless.

In fact, I don’t think it is.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ramaz: Tefillin for Women, Yes; Rashid Khalidi, No

I don’t usually comment on this blog about religious controversies among my fellow modern orthodox Jews. As in other religions, and in society at large, women’s roles are changing rapidly, and, periodically, the question of women wearing tefillin (leather boxes containing verses from scripture) during morning prayers, traditionally a male custom, pops up.

But the same school has now banned Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, one of the leading historians of Israel/Palestine, and the scion of a distinguished Palestinian family from Jerusalem, from speaking to a student club, who invited him. No doubt the school is fearful of alienating its donor base. No explanation has been given so far.

It’s not as if Prof. Khalidi doesn’t have a Ramaz connection. Ramaz alumnus, Prof. Jonathan Gribetz, wrote his doctoral thesis under Khaladi a few years ago.  Prof. Gribetz’s  wife, Prof. Sarah Kattan Gribetz of Princeton, recently gave a seminar on The Portrayal of the Other in Rabbinic Literature at Ramaz.

For an orthodox school the administration at Ramaz is relatively liberal on women’s issues and sensitive to the Jewish portrayal of the Other in rabbinic literature. But when it come their students hearing the Palestinian Other, they apparently are not so liberal. Not surprisingly, the religion of the State of Israel means more than the religion of the People Israel in modern orthodox day schools, even the liberal ones. And listening to a distinguished historian whose families were taught into refugees  by the state that Ramaz students are taught to believe is the “beginning of redemption” is too much for a religious zionist school.

The good news is that when you teach students tolerance, when you provide a crack in the wall of intolerance, that’s where the light comes in. Ramaz students have signed a petition calling upon the administration to let the club hear Prof. Khalidi.

They will win in the end. These are changing times for modern orthodox Jews.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Replies to Shmuel Rosner and Liel Leibovitz

It is understandable that two bloggers, Shmuel Rosner and Liel Leibovitz, couldn’t understand my views since they never took the time to read them.  Rosner based his criticism on a few words that he admits he has no desire to try to understand;   Leibovitz based himself on a few quotes in a  newspaper interview. Not knowing what I think, both attributed to me views that I explicitly reject. Perhaps it is easier for them to fit me in their pre-conceived box.

Since I have linked to their posts, and since I doubt their hosts will allow me space to reply, all I ask it that they link to my posts, and we can respectfully agree to disagree.

Gentlemen,  I suggest that you begin with the title of the blog, the Magnes Zionist. I don’t think that it’s too controversial to say that Zionism is a type of Jewish nationalism (though not the only type), so that since I consider myself a Zionist, it is hard to argue that I have  a “knee-jerk rejection of nationalism” (Leibovitz) or that I “oppose Zionism” and that I “think nation-states are immoral” (Rosner).  Had either read my post  Zionism Without a Jewish State, which is listed on my home page, they would have read the following:

I start from the position of a liberal nationalist, one that sees the value for the flourishing of its citizens in a nation state. (On "liberal nationalism" you can read the good overview in the article on Nationalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) Because I am a liberal nationalist, I cannot be a statist Zionist, because by identifying the Jewish state as a state of the Jewish nation, I am automatically cutting off non-Jews from full membership in that state.

Rosner and Leibovitz assume that I am post-nationalist, anti-Zionist, think that nation-states are immoral, etc.,  because they assume that Israel is a liberal nation-state, and hence that critics of Israel are anti-nationalists.  In fact, I am very much in favor of liberal nation-states – the US and some European states come to mind – which is why I oppose illiberal nation states, among which I include Israel. This is not an unusual position; anybody familiar with the liberal criticism of Israel will know of what I speak: Read Joseph Agassi, Moshe Berent, Bernard Avishai, Chaim Gans, and a bunch of other Israeli thinkers. Read Avishai Margalit’s book on a decent society and you will understand why I don’t consider Israel a decent society – although it is certainly not the most indecent society around, and there are certainly good things about it.  America with racial segregation was not a decent society, but there were many good and decent things about it.

Where Rosner and Leibovitz and I disagree is not over the justification or morality of states, but over justification or morality of this state.  By Rosner’s reasoning, anybody who questions whether Basques or Kurds, Afrikaners or Palestinians, Scots or French Canadians, have a right to a state must be some post-nationalist who think that states are bad.  To the question of whether certain peoples should have states, I answered, “That depends.” For example, I don’t think a people who bars membership in the nation on the basis of religion should have a state on that basis. They can have a state on another basis, but the first basis is inherently illiberal, as Isaiah Berlin intimated to David Ben-Gurion when he was asked about the “Who is a Jew” question.

As for Leibovitz’s claim that “religious Judaism is  tied to nationalism” I can grant him that point, although I wouldn’t use the term nationalism, which is a modern term. Religious Judaism is tied to the notion of a people covenanted to God; it is not purely a religion, although, for me, and historically, religion has been at the forefront.  It has been variously interpreted, and although as an othodox Jew, I cannot fully embrace Hermann Cohen’s rejection of mitzvot, I am not the Judaism kashrut supervisor to say that Cohen, who understood the nature of Judaism different from Michael Walzer (and with due respect,  Leibovitz misreads Walzer, with whom I am largely in agreement) doesn’t get Judaism.  I understand the radical Zionists who said that Jews have no meaningful existence as Jews outside Israel; they were wrong then and they are wrong now.

And that brings me to Shmuel Rosner, whose skin I apparently got under precisely because, try as he might, he couldn’t dismiss me as some leftwing secular post-nationalist ivory tower professor.  What is significant, he says, is not my views or me, but the fact that I benefit from the “special privilege” of having my Jewish grandchildren “growing up safely in a Jewish state – a privilege that most Jews, in most eras, would consider miraculously great.”  Well, that’s his opinion,  and he’s entitled to his historical claim, for which he brings no support.

But I don’t know what he means by “growing up safely in a Jewish state.” He can’t mean “physical safety” because since 1948 Israel has hardly been a safe place for Jews – certainly not as safe as the US. I guess he must mean growing up safely as Jews, i.e., that Jews won’t intermarry non-Jews because of the precautions Israel has taken against it.  I can’t argue with him there; the odds of intermarriage for Israelis who stay in Israel are much lower than Jews in the diaspora. I suppose that’s one way to solve the intermarriage problem: create a state where intermarriage is illegal and ship your kids there. Play the odds.

But there are other bad things besides intermarriage. Like living on land that does not belong to you, growing up with racist and xenophobic attitudes, preventing other people from living free lives, consenting to distribute resources inequitably, etc., etc.  I don’t mean to say, God forbid, that living in Israel makes these sins inevitable, or that one cannot try to be decent.  But when I was a parent raising children in Israel, especially in the religious school system,  I worried that my children would be like the children of some of my liberal American Jewish friends who made aliyah, and who sent their kids to learn in institutions run by bigoted rabbis of the Kahanist variety.  True, Rabbi Kahana was an American, but he ended up in Israel, where he felt most at home. Thank God, they survived their education, and took the fruit while discarding the husk.

And when I read the periodic surveys of the attitudes  of Jewish high school students in Israel, and when I read the policies of the Ministry of Education, I pray to the ribono shel olam that my grandchildren will not fall prey to that indoctrination.  I take that risk not because my grandchildren are safe in Israel – but because they are safe growing up with parents who know how to give them  liberal, humanist, Jewish values, and to filter out the immoral and indecent views.  And I know that with those values they will struggle in their own way against the intolerant and often fascist ideology that has hijacked much – though, thank God, not all – religious Zionism.  If I don’t worry about my grandchildren, it’s because I am deeply proud of my children and the liberal, religious, humanistic, Jewish, and Zionistic education they received.

The Magnes Zionist in the New York Times

Marc Oppenheimer wrote a nice piece in his Beliefs column in the New York Times for which I was interviewed. The piece features Stefan Krieger, Corey Robin, Rabbi Alissa Wise,  Danny Boyarin, Noam Pianko, and me.  The headline given to it was  “A Conflict of Faith: Devoted to Jewish Observance, but at Odds With Israel.”  In my case that’s a bit misleading. I do have a conflict, but not between Jewish observance and Israel.  I have a conflict because I am an Israeli; I live in a country that I believe is fundamentally flawed, despite the wonderful things it also possesses.  In my blog I only talk about the flaws, but that’s because they are fundamental. Perhaps I will post one day a list of my favorite things about Israel (hint: You wont’ find most of them in Ari Shavit’s new book.)

The piece says my religion leads me “to  oppose Israel.” That’s ambiguous; it could mean “oppose Israel’s policies” (yes) or “oppose  how the Jewish state was envisioned and came into being” (yes), or “oppose the very idea of a Jewish state” (that depends). No, I am not opposed to any Jewish state. As my colleague, Jerome Slater, has said, I don’t have a problem with a Jewish state – it’s this Jewish state I have a problem with. I can imagine Israel  evolving into a liberal state of all its citizens, a state that fosters both Hebrew culture and a connection with the Jewish people, and a state that sees its non-Jewish citizens as belonging with the Jews to the Israeli nation – a Hebrew (and Arabic) Republic, to use Bernard Avishai’s phrase. I can also see Israel/Palestine evolving into a binational state or a federation, or whatever. What I insist upon is that both peoples – the Israeli and the Palestinian – have maximum self-determination, maximum security, and maximum opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And that cannot be done, in my opinion, within the framework of the current ethnically-exclusivist state that is mired in nineteenth religio-ethnic nationalism. Rightly called by Oren Yiftachel an “ethnocracy,” Israel presents itself to the world and to itself as a liberal democracy.  In fact, it is marching backward and not forward. 

My idea of a Jewish state is a state that Jews and Palestinians can be proud of, and that incorporates in its public space and public support elements of the Jewish and Palestinian cultural past.  With over five million Israeli Jews, I am not looking to de-Judaize the culture of the state of Israel. But I would separate religion and state, and when the Palestinian Israeli writer Sayed Kashua writes a column in Hebrew in Haaretz,  I, as an Israeli, celebrate my fellow Israeli as an Israeli writer, a member of the Israeli people. But the  phrase the Israeli people is one you will never hear in Israel – it’s only Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. And I don’t want a nation-state of the Jewish people in that sense.

But don’t the Jews have a right, like other peoples, to a state of their own? No they don’t, and neither do other peoples. Self-determination, yes; statehood, that depends – and never at the expense of other people’s rights, in this case, the natives of Palestine.

Anyway, my thanks to Marc Oppenheimer, and if the NY Times wants to get the interviewees together for a group shot, I’m game.

PS. In working on my blog before Shabbat, I inadvertently distributed an old post about Justice Goldstone. My bad; I was rushing for Shabbat.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Now Maryland Legislators Want to Punish American Studies Scholars in My University

First the New York State Senate passed a bill prohibiting American Studies departments in public universities from using state funds to be institutional members of the American Studies Association, or to reimburse scholars for travel expenses to their conferences – this in retaliation to the ASA’s support of a boycott of Israeli institutions. That bill, now stalled in the New York Assembly, was opposed by a large coalition of sane groups, including the New York Times, which wrote an excellent editorial against the bill here.

Now a copy-cat bill has been introduced into the Maryland state legislature. Not only would it penalize departments and individuals who were members of the American Studies Association and who wished to travel to conferences on state research money, it would reduce funding to any institution that authorized travel money for such a conference by 3% in the following fiscal year! Yes, that’s right. If Prof. Ira Berlin, Distinguished University Professor of History at the University of Maryland,  and world-famous authority on the history of slavery, were to receive travel reimbursement from his department for  a talk on his scholarly expertise at an American Studies Association meeting, the University of Maryland would lose 3% of its funding for the following year -- and all in the name of academic freedom!

Have we gone mad? Are we living in a cuckoo world?

Readers of this blog know that I am not an absolutist on academic boycotts as a matter of principle, that I endorsed the ASA boycott decision, and that I continually express solidarity with the global BDS movement and their three goals.  But even were I opposed on principle to academic boycotts – no, especially were I opposed on principle to academic boycotts, I would fight this gross violation of academic freedom and independence, tooth and nail. After all, what has happened here?   A small academic organization passes a mild resolution urging boycott of institutions, not individuals, in response to a cry from Palestinian civil society – and the pro-Israel bullies flex their legislative muscle and threaten universities with the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding should one of their departments join the organization?

It’s certainly ok for faculty to argue against the ASA decision. Just today I received a request from a colleague to sign a petition opposing boycott of Israeli institutions. I didn’t sign, but I very much understand the arguments of those who do, especially those who are absolutist on academic freedom.  I am not of their number, but I am pretty close. I would much prefer, say, a cut-off of military aid to Israel, than a boycott of Tel-Aviv university, with which my university has recently signed a partnership agreement.

But when the state reserves the right to  decide  what travel it will fund and what travel it will not fund, it won’t take long before it legislates what should be taught and what must not be taught. After all, it’s the taxpayers’ money, it will be argued, and there are community standards.

Now there’s the real threat to academic freedom and the free-flow of ideas.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land”

There are two important stories about My Promised Land, Israeli journalist Ari Shavit’s  memoir cum interviews cum meditation on Israel:  the story of the book, itself, and the story of the enthusiastic reception it has received in America (and decidedly will not receive in Israel.) This post will take up the first story.

I read the book last night, and  I couldn’t put it down, not because it is well-written (aside from the interviews I found it  full of clich├ęs and bombast) but because I wanted to get it over with in one sitting.  This doesn’t mean that I think it an  unimportant book; on the contrary, it is vital reading for anybody who wishes to understand the mentality of the secular Israeli elite, of what Shavit calls the Israeli WASP – the White Ashkenazi secular peacenik (or former peacenik, since he no longer believes that peace is possible).

There have been good reviews of the book by Noam Sheizaf and Jerome Slater (who shows  how selective and ahistorical  Shavit’s account is).  But the one that resonated best with my reactions is by Avrum Burg in Haaretz. Rather than write my own review, I will cite passages from Burg’s review with which I agree.

The Ari Shavit of this book often sees himself as the awareness, perhaps even the conscience, of Israel as it could have been, as he would wish it to be. If this is the secret of the book, it is also the source of its principal weakness: The blind spots in the conscience and awareness of Shavit in the book are also the weakness of the Israel that once was and has changed unrecognizably.

Like many on the Zionist left, of which he was once a respected member, though now he considers himself more realistic and less dogmatic, he says in effect: It’s enough that I am aware of the wrongs, the crimes and the mistakes; I don’t need to take responsibility for them or do anything about them. Creating an easy equation for himself, he proceeds to solve it without any problems. “And when I try to be honest about it, I see that the choice is stark: either reject Zionism because of Lydda, or accept Zionism along with Lydda.”

But what about a bit more courage? Yes, he admits Israel’s responsibility for the refugee problem, and, yes, he does open the windows of Israeli consciousness to the Palestinian narrative. But in the middle of the process, the preacher in him suddenly falls silent. Whereas Shavit generally knows what to do, and is ready with good recommendations for policy and action - on these issues, he stops short of offering some practical political and human measures to solve, whether completely or symbolically, the refugee challenge. Here Shavit doesn’t take the last step of the thousand-kilometer journey. Here he is reluctant. All is written in a type of softness that is generally reserved for the observer. Even his few admonitions sound respectable, restrained, uttered with the national responsibility sensed by one who is aware of the tremendous power of written words.

I’ll go one step further than Burg. Shavit makes claims that the most ardent Palestinian nationalist would endorse: Israel wiped Palestine off the map. The Zionists are  responsible for the Palestinian catastrophe. The Israeli left doesn’t realize that it’s not about 67, it’s about 48, etc. And yet he rejects any implications for Israel’s responsibility to make amends for their actions.  Like a contemporary politician, Shavit is willing to “accept upon himself  full responsibility” and move on. Rather than doing the tough work of sitting down and working out a reasonable solution to 1948, or at least a way of living together, Shavit, paralyzed by anxieties, can only cower behind the Iron-Wall ghetto he has created unilaterally. And this unilateralism is the hallmark of traditional Zionism he admires so much. It is a Zionism that didn’t need to carry out a physical transfer of the Palestinian natives because they had never been on their mental map of Palestine to begin with.

Actually, it’s much worse than that. Shavit uses the fact that the Palestinians have justifiable grievances towards the Zionists from 1948  to argue against any accommodation with them, because, he claims, in their heart of hearts they cannot be satisfied with anything less than the end of the Zionist regime.   But this conclusion is not that of  his friend, the Arab rights lawyer Mohammed Dahla, who, although he will never accept the moral legitimacy of the Zionist regime,  is willing to compromise on core issues, such as allowing the return of only those refugees who are languishing in squalid camps in Syria and Lebanon, But that sort of nuanced and pragmatic accommodation is entirely wasted on Shavit, whose existential fears allow him only to bemoan  the “deep schism” between him and Mohammed and to ask,  “What will happen to my Land, your Land?” This is Zionist passivity at its worst.  Maimonides says that true repentance begins with recognition of the sin. Begins, not ends.

[Shavit] describes the Israeli dilemma according to his understanding: on the one hand, the most threatened state in the West, on the other hand, the only occupying state in the West. This dual, connected insight allows him to stake out a critical position both toward the left, which ignores the existential threats, and toward the right, which shrugs off the corruption entailed in the occupation…Shavit’s binary formulation is too limited. These are not Israel’s only problems or even its principal ones. The built-in international and regional isolationism, the self-perceived victimization, the lax commitment to democracy, the inordinate centrality of power as the definer of identity, the aggrandizement of the rabbinate at the expense of sovereignty, the moral rift with the Jewish people and its magnificent culture, the strategy of trauma and similar problems - these are effectively not covered by Shavit’s simple, superficial formula….

Shavit’s high-quality narrative ability covers up his two weaknesses. The first is his reference group, and the second is the world of fears that drives him. Both are authentic and reflect faithfully the limits of the Shavit narrative, the limits of secular Zionism, which was once the central force of the Israeli way of life, but no longer exists.

Most of Shavit’s heroes are well-established, secular, Ashkenazi males, with preference given to those with a personal and ideological background that tilts slightly (not overly so) to the left. Hardly any other voices from Israel’s mosaic of opinions and identity politics are heard in the book. I don’t think that’s due to a mistake by the editor. It’s a far deeper – representative – conception.

So much of Shavit’s book smacks of the secular Israeli longing for the “Golden Age of Israel,” the pre-1973 Shangri la  run by white, Ashkenazi, Europeans who had changed their names to sound authentic. (By the way, Shavit writes that the book is based on numerous interviews and discussions with “hundreds of Israelis—Jews and Arabs, men and women.” In fact, in a book of over 400 pages, only two women and two Palestinian Israelis appear.  Since Shavit has a great deal of contempt for haredim, it’s not surprising that not one of them is interviewed. And I, for one, will never forget Shavit’s interview with Burg himself, where his contempt for Burg’s positions was evident in almost every question he asked. That interview did not get into the book.)

Many of those who love Shavit’s columns in this newspaper, like many of those who will love this book, actually love the illusion it offers with such consummate skill.

They are in love with the mythological Israel of 1948. The Israel that rose from the ashes, its way lit by the vision of a model society, of unbounded sacrifice and pioneering. But that Israel no longer exists, and probably never did. Israel came into being as a secular, socialist utopia, and in the course of time and circumstances became religiously fundamentalist and flagrantly capitalist. It’s a very different society, perhaps even a different country from Shavit’s artistic depictions….

Indeed. Zionism’s greatest success, as of this moment, has been to build us a home in the mouth of the most eruptive volcano on earth. But it never tried to extinguish the destructive sources of the seething, threatening Middle Eastern lava. Accordingly, this is a book about all the fears and all the hopes and all the failures of the Zionist idea.

It’s a book that only looks back, and in this sense is a story of a nostalgic, yearning parting from the imagined past - not a new vision or a groundbreaking work plan. So much so that Shavit finds it difficult to answer even his own question of questions: “How long can we sustain this lunacy?” It remains a resonating interrogative with no signs of having a convincing answer.

Friday, January 24, 2014

One of Israel’s Last Remaining Jews Dies

Today I woke up to the news that Shulamit Aloni had passed away.

Aloni was of a generation that was brought up with the notion that to be a Jew was to be a moral human being. Judaism was encapsulated for her in the ethical humanism of the prophets, in the social justice of the Hebrews.  She truly felt that the Bible preached this justice not only to Jews but to all people. “Man is beloved for he is born in the image of God,” and that image is one of justice and mercy.  She was a Zionist, to be sure, and she loved the Jewish people.  But because she loved them, she chastised and castigated them when they failed to live up to their own standards. She realized, of course, that much of Biblical morality was unacceptable, but she felt, as do I, that there were fundamentals of Biblical morality that can and should be extended beyond what the Bible intended.  She occasionally called upon the rabbinic interpretation, but she was of a generation that lived and breathed the Bible, whole sections of which she knew by heart.  She was able to pass that on to her own children, but her generation was not as fortunate.

Aloni lived long enough to see the creation of the amoral Jew as an ideal, the proud Jewish nationalist who saw morality as a luxury that a besieged people like the Jews could little afford. She cried out repeatedly against this trend. Like many of her generation, she saw the rise of religious fundamentalism and ultra-nationalism as a threat to what had been the redeeming features of a society that she felt had much to repent for. She did not go into politics to make money and taste the high life, as so many of the Israel’s recent leaders have done. Not a suggestion of corruption was ever associated with her.

Where is the Judaism of my youth? Not an hour, not a day, not a minute goes by without the cold-hearted trampling of human rights in Israel.  Land is stolen, refugees are round up and thrown into prison, and all in the name of what? Jewish survival?

Hello, are there any Jews left?

Well, yes there is the surviving remnant, and the list is not short. They are the human rights activists harassed on the West Bank, the citizenship teachers hauled up before committees after rightwing students complain that they are being political, the defenders of Africa refugees rights, the educators of Jewish values. Real Jewish values.  The children of Aloni.

We are left orphaned by the passing of a hero of Israel. May the memory of this tzadeket/righteous person be for a blessing.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When Bashing Anti-Zionists Borders on the Anti-Semitic

An article that appeared in Tablet, defending International Hillel’s decision to bar events and groups that do not toe the Zionist line, used arguments that reminded me of classic anti-Semitic tropes, like “They sound high-minded in public, but among themselves they plot to get us,” or “They are indistinguishable from each other, so if one of them commits a crime, they are collectively responsible.”

Ok, maybe I am over-sensitive, another so-called characteristic of Jews. Maybe I shouldn’t be playing the anti-Semitism card. But read this  passage, where the author claims to define the true goal of the anti-Zionist:

It is important, in other words, to be clear what we’re talking about when we say “anti-Zionist.” As a correspondent here for many years, I have had enough contact with activists involved in anti-Israel campaigns to understand that many or most of them are not concerned with returning Israel to its 1967 borders, but rather answer to this description. These people certainly do not have nuclear bombs, and they use words like “inclusiveness,” “democracy,” and “rights” in ways that scramble the radar of liberals in the West. But their goal is to destroy the state of Israel, and they are generally willing to tell you that if you are listening.

Now I am willing to bet that the author never in his life ever heard a Palestinian activist who talks about “inclusiveness,” “democracy” and “rights” say that his or her goal is to destroy the state of Israel. “Replace the Zionist regime with a more liberal, democratic regime for all its citizens” is not the same as destroying a state.  Ronald Reagan thought the Soviet Union was a bad thing, an evil empire, and he longed for regime change. But he never talked about destroying it.

Here’s another way the author characterizes the goals of the anti-Zionist, which are that

More than 6 million Jews who have found a refuge and a home here will have that home taken away, that a century of Hebrew culture will end, and that the entire Jewish people will go back to living by the whims of Muslim and Christian majorities.

Let’s leave aside the author’s self-contradictory admission that a non-Jewish Palestine had close to forty years of Hebrew culture before the establishment of the state of Israel.  Who are the anti-Zionist groups that Hillel doesn’t allow in the doors who say anything like this? Jewish Voice for Peace, which talks in its mission statement about self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians? The Palestinian civil society organizations that signed the BDS call in 2005, a call that requires the existence of the State of Israel for its goals to make any sense.

Surprise, surprise, there aren’t any – which is why the  author doesn’t actually link to any website, or give any evidence, besides his “Trust me, I know.”So he has to say instead that the language of rights is a ruse, that these groups, many of whom are in trouble with both the PA and the Hamas because they stick out their necks for human rights, are secretly plotting the destruction of Israel and taking the homes away from six million Jews  In fact, “if you are listening” (i.e., if you can crack their secret code), they are willing to tell you this!

But wait, there’s another reason, according to our anti-Zionism expert,  why those who  partner with anti-Zionist groups should not be given a place at the Hillel table. It seems that anti-Zionists  are not committed to civil debate because one of their number, Ali Abunimeh, once heckled Ehud Olmert, and, presumably, they’re all like that. (As if Mr. Abunimeh never himself participated in a civil debate….)

The shrill, hysterical, and ultimately ridiculous, demonization of anti-Zionism – which for decades was the norm among world Jewry, and to this day, is an option among the orthodox  and reform – is the flip side of the sanctification of Zionism as a Jewish, indeed, moral value.  What follows from that beatification?  If you happen to be a Palestinian who doesn’t accept the right of the Jews to a state; in other words, if you don’t accept the right of your conqueror to dispossess you,  you are ispo facto immoral.  Small wonder that Prime Minister Netanyahu insists not only that Jews be Zionist, but that the Palestinian people become Zionist, by recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

For years I have considered myself a Zionist, and I still do. But, Ribono shel Olam/Master of the Universe, with Zionists like the author of the Tablet article, it’s a wonder I’m still on that team.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Eric Alterman and the Legacy of Yeshayahu Leibowitz

In his shrill response to Max Blumenthal’s letter to the Nation, Eric Alterman continues to question Blumenthal’s claim that the Israeli thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz was revered by the Israeli left.  He takes issue with what I wrote in the post below, which Blumenthal had quoted.

I have no desire to respond to Alterman’s defense of his claim that “Jews all over the world ‘revered’ Leibowitz for the brilliance of his Talmud exegesis” except to reiterate the accepted scholarly (and obvious) view that Leibowitz’s writings on Jewish philosophy do not constitute Talmudic exegesis. Obviously as  a philosopher writing about Judaism, Leibowitz occasionally cites and creatively interprets the Talmud, as does Martin Buber and  Michael Waltzer. But this doesn’t make him, or them,  brilliant Talmudic exegetes. 

As for being revered by “Jews all over the world,” I wish Leibowitz were better known outside of Israel. I have been teaching his thought for over thirty years, and I attended his public lectures in Jerusalem. Enter any synagogue in the US (including orthodox) and ask Jews if they have heard of Yeshayahu Leibowitz, and you will generally encounter blank stares. The philosopher’s sister Nehamah is much better known, especially among the orthodox. And pace Alterman, how many Jew outside of Israel are familiar with Ha-Entziklopedia ha-Ivrit  (the Hebrew Encyclopedia, which he may be confusing with the Encyclopedia Judaica) of which Leibowitz was once editor-in-chief?

In any event, I claimed that Alterman was confused about Leibowitz. It turns out that the Leibowitz with which Alterman is acquainted is the Jewish philosopher whom he studied in a New York yeshiva and whose philosophy merited an entry in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Full disclosure:  I am one of  SEP's editors on Jewish philosophy.) That apparently explains his surprise at Blumenthal’s claim that Leibowitz was revered by the Israeli left.

But the Leibowitz known and revered by the Israeli left was the outspoken moral critic who foresaw already in 1969 how the Occupation would cause Israeli society to rot,  who accordingly demanded an immediate total Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines without a peace agreement, who referred to the nationalist fervor around the conquest of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, as “fascism,” who coined the memorable term “Diskotel” for the religio-nationalist infatuation with the Western Wall (‘Kotel,’ in Hebrew), who called the religious Zionist settlers “worshippers of stones and trees” (i.e., idolaters), and who claimed that the Israeli public enjoyed the murder of Arabs in Beirut in 1982, predicting that Ariel Sharon and others would establish concentration camps for him and his ilk. (Much of the above can be found in Leibowitz's book advertised here and on a Hebrew website here; for a good English website devoted to his multifaceted career see here.)

Alterman correctly remarks that Leibowitz was not awarded the Israel Prize because of his “Judaeo-Nazi” statement, but he neglects to point out that he did not attend the ceremony because of the public outcry over the award. But again, Blumenthal’s point was about Leibowitz’s fame among the Israeli left, not the Israeli public at large, or scholars of Jewish thought.

Was Leibowitz indeed revered by the Israeli left? On the centennary of Leibowitz’s birth in 2003, and at the height of the Second Intifada, the Haaretz magazine section published a cover article whose inside headline began, “What remains of the worship of Yeshayahu Leibowitz?” That “worship” was not of the Leibowitz the philosopher but of the sharp-tongued social critic who railed against the establishment. The fact that the Left did not understand that critique in context of Leibowitz’s religious philosophy is irrelevant to that reverence. 

Is Leibowitz now revered by the Left? Two months ago Haaretz’s intrepid columnist and critic Gideon Levy delivered a birthday tribute to that grand Israeli leftist, Ury Avnery, saying, “Avnery was one of the first to utter the words that everyone mumbles now – ‘two states for two peoples.’ Together with Yeshayahu Leibowitz and the radical socialist organization Matzpen he was the pillar of fire that went before the camp.” 

From Leibowitz and Matzpen to Avnery and Levy there is an Israeli tradition of harsh criticism of mainstream Zionist policies towards the Palestinians. Leibowitz’s moral criticism against the actions of the Israeli army and its government began already in the early fifties. This earned him the reverence of the left. 

Perhaps I did Alterman an injustice for inferring that he did not know the above. He gave his readers no reason to believe that he did.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Blumenthal’s Goliath and PEP Critics like Eric Alterman

Update: My original claim of Alterman's ignorance when it comes to Israel was uncharitable, and I have changed it below.  I simply was astounded that he questioned Blumenthal's claim that Leibowitz was revered by the Israeli left -- something known by anybody familiar with the Israeli left -- as well as by his other claims about Leibowitz. I will respond to his clarification at a later time.

I read half of Max Blumenthal’s new book Goliath on Shabbat, and I would like to send a copy to every Jew I know, especially every PEP Jew I know  (“PEP” means “progressive except for Palestine.” ) This is the sort of book that even if you want to diss it, you can't dismiss it. To quote PEP critic, Eric Alterman, the book is "mostly technically accurate". And that should be enough to make anybody's hair stand on end.

Clearly, Alterman and other leftwing American secularists can't accept the unstated conclusion of the reportage that some of the fundamental problems of Israel are not due to a bunch of right-wing religious fanatics and nationalist Russians – not even due to Bibi and his crowd – but that, on the contrary, to core Zionist principles of the Ben Gurion school.  As Ari Shavit put it bluntly in this week’s New Yorker, you could not have a Jewish state without inducing the mass departure of the native Palestinians in strategic areas like Lydda and elsewhere.  And that is one of the foundations of the State of Israel today for all Israelis, left and right. Anybody who opposes the return of Palestinians refugees to their homes, or allowing their immigration and naturalization, because of a “demographic threat” justifies post factum that ethnic cleansing. (There may be other humanitarian reasons for opposing such a mass return, but that’s another issue.) That is the inexorable logic of Ben Gurionism that managed to refashion Zionism in its image. That is the core philosophy of the 1948 regime. It was not the core philosophy of Zionism before the 40s. 

In his response to Goliath, Alterman  reveals himself to be an am-haaretz (ignoramus) on key issues . My favorite howler is his criticism of Blumenthal's appeal to the philosopher Yeshayah Leibowitz. Alterman writes:
Jews all over the world “revered” Liebowitz (sic!) for the brilliance of his Talmud exegesis, not—as Blumenthal might wish—because he called Israeli soldiers “Nazis” and told them not to serve.
Alterman (or his research assistant) may be interested to learn that Yeshayah Leibowitz didn’t  write any Talmudic exegesis and was NOT revered by Jews all over the world -- in fact, virtually nobody outside of Israel knew who he was, despite his being considered 20th on a list of influential Israelis. I don't know whether Alterman's informant confused Yeshayahu with his sister Nehamah, who was indeed revered by Jews for her books on Biblical (not Talmudic) exegesis, or whether the informant may be confusing him with the orthodox theologian, Rabbi Soloveitchik.  [UPDATE: One reader has suggested that he was mixing Leibowitz up with Saul Lieberman or Emanuel Levinas.]

By the way, Leibowitz didn’t call Israeli soldiers Nazis.  He said that were they to do the things that they were said to have done in Lebanon, then they would be acting like Judeo-Nazis. And yes, he counseled soldiers who asked him  to refuse to serve in an immoral war. 

That, sadly, speaks volumes about the ignorance of the American Jewish leftwing Zionist. 
In fact, as books go on this subject, I thought Blumenthal's book pretty moderate -- yes, there is the occasional sarcasm and yes, it is pretty much only the dirty laundry, of which there is a lot.  Most of it is reportage with the obvious implication of advocacy. It is certainly not charitable or even-handed to the colonizer (although it is not particularly charitable to Hamas or the PA either. When will the hasbara trolls who “review” books on Amazon learn that the story  is not just about one ethnic group vs. another but also about civil society and civilians vs. politicians and leaders?)  

But when Alterman says that one has to take into account the "context" I wonder whether he read the book. The book is ALL about context, it is the context of the sort of Zionist ideology that never left Israel (except dying down maybe for a few years in the early eighties) and which has come back with a vengeance.

The difference between an American leftie like Alterman and somebody like Blumenthal is partly generational but mostly experiential. Alterman clearly doesn’t read Haaretz or YNET daily; he hasn’t spent months in the Occupied Territories; he gets his reporting on Israel from the mainstream media.

There are many others of his generation like him.  These are the “I-oppose-the-Occupation; I-support-Peace-Now;-I-believe-in-Two-States-I hate-Bibi” crowd who can’t get past their self-imposed veil of ignorance. And it is self-imposed. If you want to write a criticism of Blumenthal, tfadal, go ahead.  There is enough to criticize.

But first, as Hillel said, Go study. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Reading Lustick More Carefully

Readers:  This piece, with a few  changes, appears on Open Zion here.

Defenders of the US backed  peace process  confuse  the thesis articulated by Ian Lustick in his  “Two-State Illusion”  with those of one-staters like Ali Abunimah or Virginia Tilley.  Lustick states correctly that attempts to negotiate the partition of Palestine into two states have failed since the 1930s; he explains briefly why that has been the case; and he challenges the notion that a viable deal can be negotiated that provides the minimum requirements for both Israelis and Palestinians.  That is hardly new or radical, although its prominent placement in the NY Times guarantees that it will be seen by “Jews in their cocoon,” following Peter Beinart.

But most of Lustick’s detractors assume that he is arguing on principle for a one-state solution despite the fact that he explicitly suggests that the road to two states may lead not through a negotiated solution but through an interim one-state arrangement that is less unjust to one side than the current status quo. “Such outcomes develop organically; they are not implemented by diplomats overnight.”  From my reading of Lustick I infer that he would not be adverse to a two-state solution if it addressed satisfactorily the core issues, provided peace and security to both sides, and achieved the overwhelming support of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples (including, of course, the Israeli and Palestinian diasporas).  That sort of two state solution has never been any where near the negotiating table, as I explained here, primarily because of the power disparities between the two sides to the negotiation. 

I am not interested with Lustick’s pro-Israel critics  who continue to delude  themselves into thinking that they support a two-state solution, when what they really support is a strong state of Israel controlling a collection of emasculated Palestinian bantustans that they wish to call a state.  Their clinging to the two-state illusion is the chief impediment to a viable two-state solution, even more than those who, like cabinet minister Naftali Benet, have declared the Palestinian state dead. 

But what of those supporters of Israeli and Palestinian self-determination who genuinely believe that both peoples will receive the maximum amount of power and self-determination in their own states?

Hussein Ibish and Saliba Sarsar fall into the latter category.  Although they too misread Lustick as a principled one-stater, they are correct to perceive that he opposes two-state negotiations under current circumstances and for the foreseeable future.  The problem is that they react in a knee-jerk two-state fashion, relying on old arguments and out-of-date evidence, to support the possibility of a two-state solution emerging from the negotiations. It is one thing to say that two states are the best outcome; it is quite another to say that US brokered negotiations between Israel and the PA are the best way to get there, or even that the Clinton parameters (and, I would claim, even the Geneva Initiative) provides a real Palestinian state.

For example, they write, “one of the most compelling aspects of the two-state solution is that a solid majority of both Palestinians and Israelis alike have shown, in virtually every poll taken in the past twenty years and more, that they are in favor of peace based on two states.”  It’s time to lay this claim to rest.  For one thing, it ignores recent polling in which the Israelis have fairly conclusively rejected even the minimalist picture of a Palestinian state. Thus in July 2013 the Peace Index poll found that “the majority of Jewish respondents, to different extents, is not prepared to concede to the Palestinians on any of the four problems that stand at the heart of the conflict,” borders, Arab refugees, Jerusalem, and settlement evacuations . The data of the  August 2013 poll strengthen the “previous finding that there is currently no sweeping support for the two-state solution and indicate that the Israeli public is not losing sleep over the basic premise of the negotiations that without two states a bi-national reality will emerge.”  Close to 77% of the Jewish public oppose Israeli recognition in principle of the right of return, with a small number of Palestinians refugees being allowed to return and compensation being offered for others.”  For another, when Palestinians think of two states, they think of a state that will look more or less like Israel, something that virtually no Israeli (or their supporters) wish.

Ibish and Sarsar claim that the Israel-Palestinian negotiations represent “the only practical of means achieving the minimum goals of each party” without giving a single argument why they believe this to be the case and without countering  the historical record and the current circumstances, where one party – Israel – is simply not interested. Nor can the hardening of positions in Israel can be attributed to Israeli insecurity. On the contrary, history indicated that when Israelis feel most secure, their negotiating positions harden (cf. post 48 and post 67)  Until Ibish and Sarsar articulate how Israel can be effectively weakened so that the prospects of successful negotiations are enhanced, they are not serving their cause well.

What Ibish, Sarsar, and Lustick share is a genuine desire to end the daily horrors of occupation and exile that have been the fate of the Palestinians since 1948.  On the historical level Prof. Lustick is correct; there is no reason to believe that this round of negotiations will do anything besides hurting the Palestinians – unless the Palestinians can parlay them into advancing the idea of a genuine Palestinian state, and not the desert mirage offered them by their Israelis. It is not the fact that there is an international consensus for a two-state solution that should be emphasized, but rather that there is an international consensus for a Palestinian state.  According to a recent poll, most Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank would prefer living in an independent state than in one state in which Jews and Arabs are considered equal. Can you blame them? After all, how many  Zionist displaced persons would have preferred living in post-war Germany or Poland with guaranteed equality for Jews and non-Jews to living in their own state where they lived as free people? That number appears to be dropping, though, as Palestinians realize what they are likely to get in the two-state process.  In fact, serious supporters of a two-state solution should hope that the current round of negotiations, like all its predecessors, fail lest the  successful operation may kill the patient.  The worst thing for the Palestinians would be to receive a state that does not answer their minimal desires and needs, because their leaders, in weakness and out of self-interest, were forced to accept a bad deal.